Eva Green watched Once Upon A Time In The West while filming The Luminaries in New Zealand, and although she was seven thousand miles away from Utah, she need only have stepped out on-set to feel like she was entering a world similar to the one created by the great Sergio Leone.
The Working Title Television adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s novel of the same name premieres on BBC One this Sunday, and it certainly delivers a Western fix — albeit in the dustbowl of New Zealand’s Hokitika and with strong, complicated female leads portrayed by Casino Royale actress Green and Eve Hewson, star of The Knick and Bono’s daughter.
Set against the backdrop of the Kiwi gold rush in 1865, Hewson plays the swashbuckling Anna Wetherell, who sails from Britain to New Zealand to begin a new life. She discovers a dangerous world, where shipwreck, murder, greed, blackmail, and betrayal conspire against her, with Green’s Lydia Wells pulling some of the strings. Himesh Patel is the other lead, featuring as Wetherell’s love interest Emery Staines.
Green enjoyed playing a Western baddie. “You’ve got the gold rush, but it’s also a world where men outnumber women and you have to be super strong as a woman — have a knife under your skirt and wish for the best,” she told Deadline. Hewson also relished the dynamic demands of playing Wetherell. “I don’t get much pleasure out of playing the girlfriend all the time. You want to do what the guys do. Especially on this show, it was physically very demanding and very exciting,” she explained.
New Zealand was the last frontier of the gold trail for some Americans, and Wells hails from San Francisco, meaning Green had to hone her U.S. accent for the role. “I needed to get into the world and take an American accent, which is not natural to me. Lydia is quite smooth and nonchalant,” she explained.
For director Claire McCarthy (Ophelia) and Catton, who adapted her own novel, it was their first experience of a television project. McCarthy had read Catton’s novel three times before she was attached to the show, and said it was like “making three feature films back-to-back.” Catton has said writing for TV is like learning a new musical instrument. “The melody is more or less the same, but absolutely everything else is different,” she has said.
Green said they created a character in Wells that she does not often come across when pitched scripts. “I find it quite hard to find good roles and people tend to put me in the dark box, or too sophisticated, so it’s hard to find good roles. It’s important to do different things,” she added.
Hewson said The Luminaries — which has already premiered on New Zealand’s TVNZ and is yet to find a home in America — is indicative of the global explosion in content that has helped give rise to better roles for women. “There are so many female-driven parts that are really good, complex and different,” she said. “We have a long way to go, in terms of diversity and gender roles and equal pay, but it is changing and changing rapidly. I feel lucky to work in the Me Too era.”
The Luminaries premieres on BBC One on 21 June at 9PM. The drama is distributed internationally by Fremantle.